CHESTER, Pa. -- It was a night of costly defensive mistakes for the Union, as they fell to Mike Magee and the Chicago Fire, 2-1, on Saturday night at PPL Park.
“It was not our best night in any way, shape or form,” Union coach John Hackworth said. “It’s not the type of soccer we want to play. We have to play better.”
The Union players were equally shaken by the poor effort.
“This is a tough one to swallow,” captain Brian Carroll said. “We have to move on. This next game against DC United is more magnified.”
In spoiling a Union second-half comeback, the 8-9-4 Fire crept closer to an Eastern Conference playoff berth with 28 points. The Union, meanwhile, fell to 9-7-7 with 34 points -- just four from the New England Revolution and the final playoff spot.
Fighting back from an early deficit, the Union built overwhelming momentum in the second half, starting when Jack McInerney drew a hard-work foul on Fire defender and his former Union teammate, Bakary Soumare. On the ensuing free kick, lined up just outside the right point of the box, Sebastien Le Toux drilled in a low cross that deflected off Sheanon Williams.
The tight defense and rocket pass knocked Williams down. But while falling, Williams managed to get his heel on the ball, causing it to cross the goal line and tie the game, 1-1, in the 60th minute.
It was Le Toux’s league-leading 10th assist of the season.
“I got to a good spot,” said Williams. “I was lucky to get enough on it to go in the goal.”
With the field tilted in their favor, the Union earned four-consecutive corner kicks and solid chances on goal. But Fire goalie Sean Johnson had all the answers, including a reactionary hand save off an Amobi Okugo header at the top of the crease.
“We were talking before. I joked with him that I would celebrate hard if I scored,” Okugo said, referencing Johnson. “He didn’t let that happen.”
And at the other end, in the 75th minute, a defensive-zone turnover by Leo Fernandes saw Mike Magee alone on the left side of the box. Catching Williams off his mark, the veteran scorer didn’t flinch as he lifted his shot past Zac MacMath to give his club the 2-1 lead and eventual victory.
“We pushed a little too much trying to get the win,” McInerney said. “They got one back.”
But Magee’s goal wasn’t the first Union defensive letdown on Saturday.
Dominating from the start of the contest, the Fire opened the scoring in the ninth minute, when a complete defensive meltdown by the Union allowed Joel Lindpere to find Patrick Nyarko on a cross-box pass. Sneaking in from the right side uncovered, Nyarko easily deposited the ball through Zac MacMath to give his team the 1-0 advantage.
“We had a lot of guys chasing the ball, a lot of guys tried to compensate for each other,” Hackworth said. “Nyarko was left open on the back side.”
“The team didn’t come out the way we should have,” MacMath added. “We struggled the first 30 minutes. “They put a lot of pressure on us.”
The Union slowly battled back from their early-game slumber to break the Fire’s spell, but it took until the 41st minute for the club’s first good chance on goal.
Luring in multiple defenders, Casey found Danny Cruz with an open shooting lane at the top of the box. Cruz took a step toward goal before ripping a low line drive that was fought away by Johnson. It was the best of just a handful of chances for the Union in the first half.
Hobbled during the opening 45 minutes, Union left back Ray Gaddis was replaced at the half by Fabinho, who made an instant impact. Flying into the Fire zone on a fast break, Fabinho slid a perfect lead pass into the box for Le Toux, who shot it into the legs of Johnson to preserve the Fire’s lead.
“[Gaddis] rolled his ankle really bad,” Hackworth said. “We tried to tape it up and get him back in, but he was hobbling. We have to re-evaluate that one.”